Turn off and turn on: One simple step can defeat top mobile hackers

Richmond, Virginia (Associated Press) – As a member of the secret Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Angus King has reason to worry about hackers. At this year’s briefing for security personnel, he said that he had received some advice on how to protect the security of his mobile phone.

Step 1: Turn off the phone.

Step 2: Restart.

That’s it. In an era when digital insecurity is prevalent, it turns out that the oldest and simplest computer repair method—turning off the device and then turning it back on again—can prevent hackers from stealing information from smartphones.

Restarting phones regularly does not stop the army of cybercriminals or spy companies that have sowed chaos and doubted their ability to protect any information security and privacy in our digital lives. However, even the most sophisticated hackers will work harder to maintain access rights and steal data from their phones.

“This is all about making these malicious actors pay,” said technical director Neal Ziring. National Security AgencyCyber ​​Security Agency.

This National Security Agency Last year, a mobile device security “best practice” guide was published, which recommended restarting the phone every week to prevent hackers from intruding.

King is an independent in Maine, and he said that restarting the phone is now part of his daily work.

“I would say about once a week, whenever I think about it,” he said.

Mobile phones are almost always within reach. They rarely close and save large amounts of personal and sensitive data. They have become the primary target and microphone for hackers to steal text messages, contacts and photos, track user locations and even open videos secretly.

“I always think that mobile phones are like our digital soul,” said the security expert, former National Security Agency researcher.

The number of mobile phones hacked each year is unknown, but there is evidence that this is important. A recent global media consortium’s investigation into phone tapping caused political turmoil in France, India, Hungary, and other places. Previously, researchers found dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and politicians listed in a leaked report believed to be Israel People on the list of potential targets. Hacker rental company.

The recommendation to restart the phone regularly partly reflects the changes in the way top hackers gain access to mobile devices, and the rise of so-called “zero-click” exploits, which work without any user interaction, rather than trying to allow users to open some Secretly infected things.

Bill Marczak, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, an Internet civil rights monitoring agency at the University of Toronto, said: “This evolution is no longer the goal of clicking a cunning link.

Generally, once hackers gain access to a device or network, they will find a way to persist in the system by installing malware into the root file system of the computer. But as mobile phone manufacturers such as Apple and Google have strong security to block malware from the core operating system, this becomes more difficult, Ziring said.

“It is difficult for an attacker to go deep into this layer to gain persistence,” he said.

This encourages hackers to choose “in-memory payloads” that are more difficult to detect and trace to the person who sent them. Such hackers cannot survive a reboot, but they are usually not needed because many people rarely turn off their phones.

“The opponent realizes that they don’t need to stick to it,” Wardle said. “If they can extract and steal all your chat information, contacts, and passwords at once, then the game is almost over, right?”

There is currently a strong market for hacking tools that can break into mobile phones. Some companies, such as Zerodium and Crowdfence, publicly offered millions of dollars for zero-click attacks.

In recent years, there has been a surge in hacker hire companies that sell mobile device hacking services to governments and law enforcement agencies. The most famous is the Israel-based NSO Group. Its spyware researchers say that its spyware has been used all over the world to hack into the phones of human rights activists, journalists and even Catholic clergy.

According to the Washington Post, NSO Group was the focus of recent exposure by a media consortium. The consortium reported that the company’s spyware tool Pegasus has successfully or attempted to tap the phone calls of corporate executives, human rights activists, and others in 37 cases. Is used.

The company was also sued by Facebook in the United States, and allegedly used a zero-click vulnerability to attack about 1,400 users of its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.

NSO Group stated that it only sells its spyware to “censored government agencies” for use in combating terrorists and major criminals. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The persistence of NSO spyware was once a selling point of the company. According to documents obtained by Vice News, a few years ago, its subsidies in the United States provided law enforcement agencies with a phone hacking tool that would survive even a phone factory reset.

But Marczak, who has been closely following NSO Group activists for many years, said that the company seems to have first started using zero-click exploits and abandoned persistence around 2019.

He said that the victim in the WhatsApp case would see the call ringing several times before installing the spyware. In 2020, Marczak and Citizen Lab exposed another zero-click hacking attack attributed to NSO Group, which targeted several Al Jazeera reporters. In this case, the hacker used Apple’s iMessage short message service.

“No target reported seeing anything on their screen. Therefore, it is completely invisible and does not require any user interaction,” Marczak said.

Marczak said that with such a powerful tool available, restarting the phone will not stop a determined hacker. After restarting, they can simply send another zero click.

“It’s just a different model, it’s the persistence through reinfection,” he said.

This National Security AgencyThe guide also acknowledges that restarting the phone only works in certain situations.This mechanismThe mobile device guide has a simpler suggestion that can really ensure that hackers will not secretly turn on the phone’s camera or microphone to record you: Don’t take it with you.

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